I Left My Heart and Soul in Batanes (Part 1: Where to Stay and What to See in South Batan)

Tayid Lighthouse in Mahatao, Batan Island, Batanes

They say Batanes is breathtaking...and it is. It really is. From the time the plane starts its descent, you can already see the vast paradise waiting to envelope you in its captivating allure. The lush greenery, the bright blue waters, and the picture-perfect vista -- it is beautiful in all sense of the word.

No wonder, people are exerting effort to score modestly-priced flights to this destination. Why not? A regular roundtrip ticket can reach as high as Php 15,000, as against Php 2,000-3,500 that are usually being offered during major travel expos! All you need is patience! Well, a lot of it.

My husband was one of those who braved the long lines at the Travel Expo last September 2014. Lo and behold, after scouting around, he got Basco-bound tickets via Philippine Airlines for both of us at Php 2,200 each, roundtrip. What a steal, right? We were kinda hesitant to book it since the travel dates available were June and we thought it's already rainy season by that time, but in the end we decided to take the risk.

June 13, we boarded a plane bound for Basco. We were at the NAIA Terminal 3 as early as 3:00 am, and the plane took off on schedule. The one-hour-and-45-minute flight seems long, especially for two eager travelers like us who were so excited to see Batanes for the first time.

On our final approach, the aircraft flew over the majestic islands of Vuhus and Adekey (also Dequey), two of Batanes' westernmost islands. I was already in awe when I caught a glimpse of these two majestic islands. The water was so clear that we could see the rocks and corals beneath even from an altitude.

Clearer views closer to Basco Airport

Batanes, the smallest and northernmost province of the Philippines, is the only province in the country declared in its entirety as a protected landscape and seascape area. It is composed of 10 islands, of which only three are inhabited: Batan, Itbayat, and Sabtang. The rest of the islands are Dinem, Siayan, Ditarem, Misanga, Mavudis, Adekey, and Vuhus. Its capitol lies in Basco, where the airport is also located.

Basco Airport

The airport is about five minutes away from Nanay Cita's place, our home in Batan. Also known as Palangud Homestay, the quaint five-bedroom home is owned by a former DENR employee, Cita Ballester. It has fan-cooled and air-conditioned rooms that are clean and well-maintained. Nanay Cita also lets her guests use the kitchen, or, should you not have the time (or talent) to cook, she will gladly cook for you during your stay. You just have to pay a minimal fee for the ingredients and gas, of course. When we arrived from the airport, she even prepared free breakfast  composed of dried flying fish, eggs, rice, and coffee for us. She's so sweet and motherly!

Room # 2 can accommodate up to 3 persons
Room #2 has its own toilet and bath
The common living room
Kitchen
Dining Area
Free flying fish breakfast!
After breakfast, we rested in our room and prepared for our itinerary for the day--going around the southern part of Batan Island. The tour, which usually takes an entire day, includes a visit to the three towns of South Batan: Mahatao, Ivana, and Uyugan.

The usual tours around Batanes are North Batan (half day), South Batan (whole day), and Sabtang Island day or overnight tours. Guests can also explore the island of Itbayat on a good weather, as well as the uninhabited Vuhus Island, which is perfect for diving and snorkeling. Tour packages starts at Php 5,200 (joining tours for North Batan, South Batan, and Sabtang day tour including lunch, land and sea transfers). A joining tour is an arrangement where you share a van or a bigger mode of transportation with other groups to cut costs. Private tours are also available at a higher rate and is best for big groups. It is also advisable that you book your tours at legitimate local tour operators than hiring a tricycle whose driver also doubles as a tour guide for safety purposes. It may be a bit pricier but it's a lot safer and fuzz-free, trust me! Please note that majority of the roads in Batanes are steep and winding, so better be safe than sorry. It's okay to take a tricycle but it will be better if you come with a separate tour guide other than the driver himself.

For tour arrangements, the Heritage and Tourism Office can help you, as well as other privately-owned agencies like Ryan Cardona's BISUMI Tours & Services. We tried both: our tour of North and South Batan was through the tourism office while our trip to Sabtang and Vuhus Islands was taken care of BISUMI Tours & Services.

Exploring South Batan
At 11:00 am, our charming guide, Cindy Labrador, fetched us from Palangud Homestay. Cindy works at the Heritage and Tourism Office. It was already sunny when we went out (btw, June is still summer in Batanes, contrary to what we believe that it's already rainy around this time. Rainy season starts at around July). Along the way, we couldn't help but be mesmerised by the stunning views. It's beautiful everywhere we looked. Breathtaking, indeed!

Our first stop was the Chawa View Deck, a 150-step stairs made of rocks that lead to the sea. You can go down to explore the cave, which, as the locals say, is enchanted and being protected by the anitos (spirits), and just frolic in water. This viewpoint in the town of Mahatao is also a perfect spot to view the sunset. If you have more time towards the end of your tour, you can request to go back here to take snapshots of the sunset. There's a fee being collected by the LGU (Php 50 per person).

Chawa View Deck
Can you see the cave?

Front seats?
Also in this town is the Mahatao Boat Shelter, a man-made refuge inaugurated in 2007 to keep most of the boats in Batan safe during bad weather. As we know, weather is unpredictable in Batanes, and the province is usually bombarded by strong typhoons specially during the southwest and northeast monsoon seasons.

Mahatao Boat Shelter
Still part of the shelter. Noticed the newly-built lighthouse?
A bridge built during the Spanish era
On our way to Mahatao Church (also known as San Carlos Borromeo Church), we passed by a centuries-old bridge built during the Spanish time. It is no secret that Batanes played an important role in history during the colonial period.

The San Carlos Borromeo Church may not look as old as the other churches in the Philippines built during the time of the Spaniards, but it sure has a lot of stories to tell. In 2001, it was declared by the National Museum and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as one of the 26 churches recognized as cultural icons because of their beauty and state of preservation. The church was built by Fr. Cresencio Polo in 1873. It is also within the vicinity of this church where you can find two old Spanish lighthouses.

San Carlos Borromeo Church
The church features cogon roof
Inside the church compound is the Maywang A Libro Du Vatan (Batanes Blank Book Archive), a sort of library that houses about a thousand blank books where guests can write whatever they want. Sa mga gustong humugot, pwede din dito, hehe!

I took the chance to write in one of the books, numbered 118, and wrote my thoughts about Batanes. Hopefully, it'll still be there when I go back to explore Itbayat and other marine sanctuaries in the province.

The entrance to the Blank Book Archives

This is it!
Still in Mahatao, we then went to one of the many pocket beaches in the area--Homoron White Beach and its twin, the Homoron Blue Lagoon. The beach features coarse white sand bound by picturesque rock formations. It is a popular site for picnic and beach bumming, although it is quite impossible to swim on it during low tide. The blue lagoon, also known as the Spanish Lagoon, resembles a mirror with its clear azure waters. It is believed that during the Spanish times the locals are prohibited to take a dip in this natural wonder.

Homoron Whote Beach
Homoron Blue Lagoon
The other side of the beach
We continued our journey towards the town of Ivana, home to the famous Honesty Coffee Shop, the port to Sabtang, and one of the oldest stonehouses in Ivana known as the House of Dakay.

Still, we were awestruck with all the beautiful views we saw along the way. At one point, we could see a glimpse of Dinem and Itbayat Islands in the horizon, flashing against calm waters.

Dinem Island in the background
Before we reached the House of Dakay,  we saw another bridge built during the Spanish era. To this day, people in this side of the world use this bridge.

Spanish Bridge
House of Dakay
Built using limestone in 1887, the House of Dakay is one of the oldest houses in Batanes, and said to be the oldest in Ivana, having survived a destructive earthquake in September 1918. The house has been maintained through the years and is still inhabited to date. Inside the house are souvenir items for sale as well as a few vakuls (traditional woven head gear worn by Ivatans to protect themselves against the heat of the sun and the cold weather) that tourists can use as props for photo ops.

A vakul
Our next stop was the Ivana Church (also known as San Jose de Ivana Church), another church declared as a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission in 2008. Built by the Dominicans, the church was partially destroyed by another destructive earthquake in 2000 and was later renovated during the term of Fr. Gumersindo Hernandez, OP, in 2001.
San Jose de Ivana Church
The church's interiors
Right in front of the church is the Ivana Port where faluwas (round-bottomed boats that don't have outriggers) to and from Sabtang Island dock. Boat trips are usually scheduled early in the morning to avoid huge waves and strong water current.

Ivana Port
Beside the busy port is the famous Honesty Coffee Shop, where you can buy refreshments and souvenirs and just pay it at a dropbox. Yes, there is no one in there to watch over you so people here are expected to be "honest" and pay whatever they buy accordingly.

Honesty Coffee Shop
It was freakin' sunny that day, so having a cup of coffee was out of question. We instead had a few cans of Coke and some bottled water. I noticed that the shop also carries a nice mix of artworks done by Ivatan artists. In fairness, their artworks are beautiful that I even wanna bring one home!

Inside the Honesty Coffee Shop


Highway? More fun in Batanes!
The next town was Uyugan where we visited the Song Song Ruins (remnants of an old settlement which was ravaged by a tsunami in the 1950s). We were not able to go inside though, as the gates were locked that time.

The entrance to Song Song Ruins
Another beach along the way
If Ilocos Norte has the iconic Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, Batanes has its own version called Alapad Rock. There were two rocks sliced in the middle by the road. The views here were also fantastic! On its side was another rocky beach where one can enjoy dipping into the cold water.

Alapad Rock

Beside Alapad Rock

Boats "sheltered"
After exploring the towns of Ivana and Uyugan, we went back to the town of Mahatao to check out the other remaining sites on our way back to Basco. First off, we went to perhaps the most photographed side of Batan, the Racuh a Payaman or Marlboro Country. This spot was named as such because of its subtle contours and verdant rolling hills that serve as a wind-swept communal pasturelands for cows, horses, carabaos, and goats. The panoramic views here are priceless! Your trip in Batanes wouldn't be complete without having a photo here. ;)

And of course, I couldn't resist striking a pose, too!
From Marlboro Country, we could already see the Tayid Lighthouse amidst lush greenery. Again, it was breathtaking!

Guests who availed of the packaged tours usually have their lunch in Marlboro Country.

A view of Tayid Lighthouse from Marlboro Country
After Marlboro Country, we went to Diura Fishing Village, a sitio off the eastern part of Mahatao where fishermen still practice traditional fishing methods for Arayu (or Dorado).

A 30-minute hike from Diura Fishing Village leads to the Fountain of Youth, a spot that has an infinity pool, which uses spring water, another perfect venue to watch the spectacular Batanes sunset. We did not go all the way up, though.


Houses at Diura Fishing Village
Drenching Dorado with the scorching heat of the sun
Still at the fishing village
Our last stop for the South Batan tour was the Tayid Lighthouse. Unlike other lighthouses, this privately owned lighthouse is hexagonal in shape, perfect as a backdrop for pictorials and even events such as destination weddings. The spot where the lighthouse stands commands a panoramic view of the hills and the boundless ocean. It was built in 2000.

Tayid Lighthouse
More greens at the Tayid Lighthouse
We finished the tour at around 4:00 pm, so we decided to go back to our homestay to take some rest before sunset and dinner. Along the way, we saw more striking postcard-perfect vistas. We also passed by Batanes Resort to reserve seats for dinner.

Always blow your horn

At around 5:30 pm, we went back to Batanes Resort for dinner, hoping to have an unhampered view of the sunset. However, the sun was still far from setting its bursting hues into the ocean, so we opted to finish our dinner right away so we could run to the nearby view deck afterwards.


Our dinner was composed of lunis (Ivatan pork adobo), string beans with minced pork, and sweet and sour fish.
Lunis
String beans with minced pork
Sweet and sour fish
Right after we finished dinner, we took a tricycle to the nearby viewdeck to watch the sunset. Our timely arrival at the viewdeck allowed us to have beautiful snapshots of the sunset! Spectacular!






As the sun started to set in the vast sea, we ended our first day in Batanes with a huge smile on our faces. While it was only a prelude to our five-day stay on the island, the memories we had of South Batan will definitely linger to last a lifetime.

Up next: Sabtang and Vuhus Island



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Palangud Homestay (formerly Nanay Cita's Homestay)
Brgy. Kaychanarianan, Basco, Batanes (at the back of Marfel's Lodge Annex)
+63939.9193616


PGO-Heritage and Tourism Office
1/F Provincial Capitol Complex, Basco, Batanes
breathtakingbatanes@yahoo.com

BISUMI Tours and Services
+63919.279.5963 / +63915.803.4582
ryan.batanes@gmail.com

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